10 Things You Didn’t Know about Alvin Ailey

alvin ailey

Alvin Ailey is an American dance phenomenon. He is a man who many are unaware of unless they love modern dance, but he’s involved in almost every aspect of our everyday lives whether we know it or not. He was the man who revolutionized the art of modern dance, as well as African-American concert dance participation. He is a man with a long and interesting life, a man who made himself famous in the world of choreography, and a man most modern dancers look up to and remember with a great fondness. Alvin Ailey might not have the most famous name in the world, but don’t think for one moment that makes him any less important to our modern history than anyone with a more easily recognizable moniker. He’s a man who changed the world in his own way.

He created the most well-known modern dance

Have you ever heard of a dance called Revelations? If you are not a dancer, you might not have heard of this. However, all dancers know this piece, and it’s highly famous in the dance world. Alvin Ailey is the man who created this dance, and it’s known as the most famous modern dance performance. It might even be the most seen dance performance in the world. If that doesn’t show you just how famous he is, then nothing will.

He’s received many awards

Not only has Alvin Ailey been awarded many different awards throughout his life, he’s also received some of the most prestigious awards in the world since his death in 1989. He’s earned the Spingarn Medal issued by the NAACP, the Kennedy Center Honors Awards and he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, which was 25 years after his death.

He’s the son of a very young mother

Alvin Ailey’s mother, Lula, was only 17 when she gave birth to her son. At the time, she was only dating his father, and the two accidentally ended up expecting a baby. They were not in a place where caring for a small baby was going to be easy for them, but his mother made the decision to give birth and keep her son, providing for him as best she could when she made the decision.

His father left

Unfortunately for Alvin Ailey, his mother was the only parent who could handle the stress of being a teenage parent. His father, Alvin, decided that he could not handle the stress of having a baby when his son was only 6-months-old, and he took off and left the family with no one. It was a difficult moment for his mother to handle, but she accepted her fate as a single mother and she did whatever she could to provide for her son.

His childhood was not easy

Alvin Ailey and his mother lived in Texas when he was a child in the 30s and 40s, and life was not easy for them. It was not easy for his mother to find work, so they often went without food, a home or anything that they needed to get by. She did what she could to provide for her son, and she managed to do it will enough to keep them alive and provide for them in their lives.

He moved to California when he was 11

It was 1942 when his mother decided that it was time for them to move to California to escape the racial segregation of the south. They made the decision to head to Los Angeles, where Alvin Ailey began attended a primarily white school. Unfortunately, he was raised in a time when he was terrified of white people, and he was scared and unable to function well at school. His mom made the decision to move to a school that was primarily African-American so that her son was more comfortable and would learn more. He enjoyed school at that point, and he showed a great aptitude for language and for dance and music. He loved to learn, and it changed his life.

He didn’t dance until 18

Alvin Ailey might be one of the most important people in the dance community, but he didn’t start seriously considering dance until he was 18. He was introduced by friends to the Lester Horton studio, and that is where he learned to dance more artistically and in a more serious manner. It changed his life for the better, but he didn’t know it right away.

He’s very educated

Even after he left high school and began learning to dance, he still was not sure what he would do for a living. He enjoyed dance, but he also enjoyed romance languages, and he made the decision to continue to study those in college. He took many writing courses, and he eventually found himself in San Francisco.

He’s friends with Maya Angelou

When Alvin Ailey decided to head to San Francisco, he had no idea that his friend Marguerite Johnson would become the woman she did. She later changed her name to Maya Angelou, but it was after the two of them would perform together at clubs and became very good friends. They were lifelong friends, and she played a huge role in his life.

He’s one of the most famous dancers in the world

When Alvin Ailey made the decision to continue his career in dance, he had no idea he would found a company called the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958. He was just in his 20s, and he had no idea that his theater would become one of the most famous and busiest touring the entire world to perform in many different countries for many different people.

He’s gay

Alvin Ailey was a gay man. He did not want his mother to know that he was gay. He spent two years hiding his dance career from her for fear that she would suspect. He finally decided to share it with her because of his success, and she was quite proud. However, he did not want his mother to know that his death in 1989 was from HIV/AIDs, so he had his doctor announce to the world that he was dead thanks to something called terminal blood dyscrasia to spare her feelings.

Photo by Getty Images

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